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Sunday
Feb132011

Here's a Toast to the Good Sleepers Among Us!

It’s great to see sleep being highlighted more often in the news.  I felt compelled to write after seeing (and hearing) Arianna Huffington take a stand on the importance of sleep – in direct opposition to the pervasive attitude devaluing sleep that, unfortunately, is rampant in our culture. 

Speaking this week to a group of undergraduate students about sleep, I was reminded again of how alone good sleepers can feel in the era of being busy 24/7.  The most striking response of these young students to my presentation about sleep was how many of them were good sleepers who were teased or pressured about the amount of sleep they get by family and friends.  One young woman asked if you can get too much sleep, relaying the fact that after a good night’s sleep, she can often still feel tired.  Well-meaning folks have suggested that she is getting too much sleep.

Here is another myth about sleep to be “busted.”  If you have gotten enough sleep, you wake up feeling rested.  If you wake up tired, that is your body’s attempt to tell you: “Yes, thank you for the sleep.  Now I still need more!”  Unknown to most is the fact that “sleep begets sleep.”  Contrary to popular thought, getting more sleep whether in the day or in the night does not make you sleep less at night. 

Recent studies about later start times for high school students showed the unexpected.  Once students didn’t have to get up so early for classes and, as a result, were getting an hour more of sleep, they found themselves going to bed earlier than they had previously and lengthening their night’s sleep even more.  Sleep scientists are not surprised. 

They know what we as a culture seem so unable to accept: as you increase the amount of sleep you get, the easier it is to sleep more.  When young children are struggling with sleep, the most effective way to help them get the sleep they need is to encourage earlier bedtimes and more frequent naps.  Once they gain additional sleep, the process of sleeping better and longer will take over on its own.

But, back to the badge of honor for sleeping little and filling up one’s day with “productivity.”  Unfortunately, it appears (and scientific research gives more and more evidence of this) that we are adding more and more health problems, learning and behavioral problems, and diminished academic performances to our lives as we keep ourselves up and busy longer and longer.   

There is so much work to be done to bust the “myths” about sleep.  But I’ll start by repeating my reassurance to that young undergraduate: There is no such thing as too much sleep!  If you feel tired, keep working on getting more sleep.  And for those good sleepers among us, I want to say: “Hoorah!  You’ve got something good going.  Brave the current climate and hold onto it.”  

--Beth

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